One common question people have once they learn of a loved one’s need for addiction treatment is, “How long will they need treatment?” One of the simpler answers is “It depends.” But experts agree that the longer stays of a treatment seems to be more effective in long term recovery, as it helps the person with substance abuse disorder develop resources that may prevent relapse.
Research shows that it is difficult for many patients to stay in treatment. Some people are at higher risk for early abandonment of treatment, such as those who are younger, have a personality disorder, and those with cognitive deficits1. Unfortunately, on average, only about 47 percent of people maintain a year of sobriety after treatment.2 One way this success rate can improve is by ensuring at least 90 days of treatment are followed.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports, “research has shown unequivocally that good outcomes are contingent on adequate lengths of treatment. Generally, for residential or outpatient treatment, participation for less than 90 days is of limited or no effectiveness, and treatments lasting significantly longer often are indicated.3”
The NIDA’s statement is similar to other study findings (see additional references below.)
Research generally shows that anything less than 90-days is of limited effectiveness because it takes the brain up to 120 days – or sometimes longer than one year – to return to its baseline functioning depending upon the substances used and intensity/duration of used10.
Having a loved one attend treatment for 90 days will also provide adequate time for the family to receive support. It provides more time for involvement in family therapy, and time for adjustment to a new family dynamic. Addiction affects the entire family, not just the addicted individual15.
Moreover, a 90-day treatment stay typically offers time for the facility to provide community reintegration services, which significantly improves chances of maintaining sobriety16.
Helping people recover from addiction is not simply about stopping drug and alcohol abuse, it is about a much broader change. The goal is to help the addicted individual learn how to develop a lifestyle of wellness. This means developing healthier relationships, repairing damaged relationships, reintegrating into the workforce or returning to school, developing a fitness lifestyle, developing a healthier diet, a more reasonable weekly schedule, coping skills, and more.
Change is not easy, and it takes time. The science indicates that a longer treatment stay with more intensive treatment is most effective.
References and Resources for Further Reading